Eyes on the Street: New and Improved Allen Street Bikeway and Plazas

The new plaza space at Allen and Hester Street. Photo: Ben Fried

The construction barriers are down and the tables and chairs are out on Allen Street in Chinatown. While there’s still some planting and other work left to be done, the public spaces are already magnets for people. The median bikeway on the three-block stretch between Hester and Delancey is also open and rideable again.

The Allen Street capital project — an upgrade to a 2009 DOT redesign which itself followed years of grassroots community activism — has been in the works since last year. (Another upgrade to the same corridor, on Pike Street, is still fenced off.) Pedestrian injuries fell 60 percent where the initial 2009 project reclaimed space from motorized vehicles, according to DOT.

The finished median has replaced low-cost surfaces like gravel and paint with nicely-textured pavers for pedestrian spaces, sidewalk-grade bikeways, and new plantings. Chairs in the two plazas, at Broome and Hester, have been packed each time I’ve passed through around dusk. Since parks and public space are so scarce in Chinatown, these plazas are precious stuff.

With the bikeway open for business, a gap in the downtown bike network that lasted more than a year has now been mended. Reader @J_uptown got the first picture of the newly useable median and bikeway:

Photo: ##https://twitter.com/J_uptown/status/231089247782830080/photo/1/large##@J_Uptown##

It’s not a space for fast biking, and where the bikeway crosses the plazas, pedestrians and cyclists have to do some negotiating. It does feel like a very safe place to ride.

More photos after the jump…

The plaza at Allen and Broome. Photo: Ben Fried
Construction on Pike Street between Madison and South Street is still underway. Photo: Ben Fried
  • Anonymous

    A vast improvement. I am glad they put up no pedestrian/bicycles only signs on the bicycle paths but I am not optimistic that they will be honored. 

  • J

    I talked to a construction worker on Pike Street last week, and he said that that section should be done in a few weeks. From the looks of it, they’re putting the finishing touches on that stretch.

    One minor criticism of the project is that the seats and tables in the plazas are firmly bolted to the ground, making them much less comfortable and useful. Any planner worth his salt knows that movable tables make a space much more adaptable to different uses. I guess the city requires some sort of private agency to take responsibility for those chairs and tables, and there must not have been a BID or community group that was willing to do so. This is sad, since good plazas require upkeep and supervision to make them successful. If no one is taking care of this, it seems likely that it will suffer the same fate as the previous malls. Lower East Side BID, where are you on this??

  • @Geck Making the signs multi-lingual will probably help.

  • The chairs, do they move?

  • Whoops, I didn’t see J’s post.  The chairs should be movable.  Is there a sponsor for the plazas?

  • Igor3624

    I arrived in Chinatown early for a meeting last Friday and ended up here while wandering to kill time. Was happy and surprised to find a shady place to chill for a few minutes after sweltering in the subway (although, actually, the shade was scarce – most of the seats were in the sun). And it’s certainly a pleasantly different way to walk down Allen St.

    @Geck – I really can’t think why pedestrians would end up on the bike paths. There’s a big broad walking path paralleling them the whole length of this feature.

  • Ben Kintisch

    Looks just beautiful. Okay, I’m glad that many lovely protected lanes have been built or are in the works for manhattan, but how about some ideas from fellow streetsblog readers for the next protected lane we need in Brooklyn? My first suggestion to get the conversation rolling – Bedford Avenue between Eastern Parkway and the Willisburg Bridge. Yes that would mean restoring the vanished lane in S. Willisburg. Who else has ideas? Dream big – it might just come true!

  • Jeff

    These improvements are fantastic for pedestrians, but unfortunately I feel that we lost one of the best protected bike lanes in the city.  The curbside, buffered, bollard-protected bike lane of yore allowed for both a high-speed and safe ride.  While Allen St isn’t on my daily commute or anything, I did ride the new path (I feel like I’m not the only Streetsblog reader who will go out of his or her way just to check out new infrastructure!), and while it was cute, I plan on using the mixed-use vehicular lanes in the roadbed for when I need to take Allen St for actual transportation purposes.

    But hey, those are my needs, and I’m just one class of street user.  So great news for pedestrians and novice cyclists!

  • ctp

    If anyone has ridden the Grand St bike lane through Chinatown… I wish this project the best of luck…

  • ctp

    If anyone has ridden the Grand St bike lane through Chinatown… I wish this project the best of luck…

  • Eric McClure

    I rode the revamped Allen Street path last week and thought it was fantastic. And while I’m no Bradley Wiggins, it certainly seemed more than suitable for “actual transportation purposes.”

  • Ian Turner

    @882bd325981e4522753c11cc1cd06be6:disqus : My experience with paths like this elsewhere in the country is that people out for a stroll just don’t pay much attention to that sort of thing. I don’t know if it’s a lack of awareness, a desire to get away from other pedestrians (or runners), or what, but I think @Geck:disqus is right to be skeptical about this.

    On the other hand, bicycle stencils combined with a steady stream of cyclists might do the job.

  • This is great. Rode it as they were finishing up recently and it was almost perfect. I agree with Ian Turner…they should slap down some bicycle stencils every 30 feet or so. Might help and works in all languages.

  • Danny G

    @Ben_Kintisch:disqus Amen brother. Just a dream but I’d like to see Bedford Avenue between Dean Street and Farragut Road become a one-way southbound street with a two-way separated bike path on the east side, and one on the west side between Dean Street and Flushing Avenue where it is already one-way northbound. (Anyone driving northbound on Bedford knows that Rogers Avenue is a faster ride.)

    How do you do something like this, across multiple community boards and constituencies?

  • Magic Mike Bike

    This is gonna be a skateboarder’s heaven.  Doing jumps every which way in the bike lane and the plaza.

  • Ahhh… More bike infrastructure built by non-cyclists.

    A nice piece of landscape architecture but transportation infrastructure this is not.  Look for major bike / ped conflicts in the shared plaza areas and with peds in the bike lanes.  Cops will be sure to bust you if you feel like riding in the street.

    I’m all for protected bike lanes but they should be useful for a majority of cyclists, not just those going 5mph with their kids.  I’m not talking about just the speed demons.  Design  speed  should be between 10 & 15mph.

  • Ben Kintisch

    By law you are still permitted to ride in the street if you think this path doesn’t allow you to go fast enough.

  • Guest

    This design looks attractive, but is functionally unfortunate.

    I think this is a throwback to very old thinking, in a way, which viewed bikes as a form of recreation rather than real transportation.  It probably also results from the shared interest campaigning that has grouped cyclists and pedestrians together to regain space from automobiles. 

    But bikes are transportation, and they’re not so compatible with pedestrians that bicycling commuters should be pushed into “negotiating” use of spaces with a lot of pedestrians.  Even when everyone behaves well (and you’ll never see 100% polite behavior from any group), “negotiating” the use of space is not comfortable.

    It is unfortunate that those who mean well are helping to fuel pedestrian complaints about cyclists that feed the backlash against all improvements.

  • m to the i

    I rode this route before the project was undertaken and just started riding on the new path. I think this is some of the best bicycle infrastructure that nyc has installed. I actually don’t understand all of the complaints. I go a little out of my way to avoid Chrystie Street to use this lovely path on my way to the Manhattan Bridge.

  • Anonymous

    Hey, look at the bright side, at least you are not likely to see cars parked on the bike lane! I’m not afraid of a little “negotiating” with pedestrians, although I will defer my final opinion until I try it on a busy day. In a way, I think negotiating with pedestrians across a small plaza may be safer than across a signalized intersection or crosswalk, because it makes it more obvious that negotiation must take place and less likely that people will proceed blindly.

  • Rider

    I commute on Allen St. daily, and I am happy to see this bike lane reopened. I rode on it just this morning. I appreciate having a path separate from that particular stretch of road, because there are a lot of delivery trucks using it during my commute. I have noticed two potential trouble spots: (1) the plaza at Allen and Broome, and (2) the intersections with the sidewalks as the bike lane crosses into the street intersections. The city should install appropriate signage at those spots for both the cyclists and pedestrians, and maybe even plastic posts lining the bike lane as it crosses through the plaza.

  • Joe R.

    I agree with those who feel this space really wasn’t designed by people who actually cycle to get anywhere. Now that the city is making serious accommodations for cyclists, it’s time we had a few design guidelines for new infrastructure. For starters, we should try to future-proof new infrastructure by designing it for cyclists of all speeds and abilities. In time, as human-powered transportation becomes a serious option, we’ll doubtless start seeing more and more “improved” versions of the conventional bicycle, such as velomobiles. As such, this means cycling infrastructure should have design speeds of at least 30 mph unless space constraints dictate otherwise. There should also be enough space for faster riders to overtake slower ones. It’s easy to disparage so-called “speed demons” here, but in the end it’s really those riders pushing the limit of what is possible who advance the state of the art for all cyclists. As such, they must be accommodated along with cyclists of lesser abilities. While the landscaping on the new bikeway looks beautiful, those sharp turns and shared spaces with pedestrians really aren’t conducive to effective transportation. The only saving grace here is the run along Allen Street isn’t very long. Maybe all told you’ll lose only one or two minutes over having a straighter, faster path. No big deal, but we definitely shouldn’t design cycling infrastructure like this everywhere, or you might be looking at needlessly adding 30 to 45 minutes to trip times from the outer boroughs. We need to think of cycling infrastructure the same way as we’ve thought of car infrastructure for the last 50 years-namely get the traffic through as rapidly as possible. The upside of this is at least doing so with bicycles won’t result in carnage or cut neighborhoods in two the way it has with automobiles.

  • The previous incarnation was not a protected lane, unless you call flimsy plastic markers protection. I would feel comfortable letting a small child ride in the newly landscaped lanes, unlike previously.

  • Guest

    Look at the top picture. Do you think the guy with the shopping bags knows he is in a supposed bike lane? No markings to give any sign. There are huge stretches of pavement like that at the cross streets, lots of elderly people in the neighborhood, it’s a recipe for disaster. 

  • Ryan Ng

    They had these bike lanes for all this time… and only now did they rebuild them…

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